Music Review: Release show greatness of Ronnie James Dio

Dio, “At Donington UK: Live 1983 & 1987” (Niji Entertainment); Heaven and Hell, “Neon Nights” (Eagle Rock)

It goes on and on and on.

Ronnie James Dio, the legendary heavy metal singer who starred with Rainbow, Black Sabbath and his self-titled solo band, died last May after a battle with stomach cancer. Now, a torrent of live material capturing some of his most brilliant moments is being released.

First up is a 2-CD set of live Dio shows at England’s Castle Donington Festival in 1983, during his first solo tour, and 1987, when Dio was well into his third incarnation as a platinum-selling artist. The 1983 disc is full of the raw fury and speed that marked Dio, the band he wasted little time launching following his first go-round with Black Sabbath. It races from the gate with guitarist Vivian Campbell’s frenetic licks on the classic concert opener “Stand Up And Shout,” and mixes in Black Sabbath classics “Children Of The Sea” and his signature tune, “Heaven And Hell” (versions of which appear on all three of the discs reviewed herein.)

In a nod to history, Dio also includes Rainbow classics “Stargazer,” “Man On The Silver Mountain” and “Starstruck,” but infuses them with a breakneck speed and sense of urgency that Ritchie Blackmore never did.

The 1987 disc finds Dio in chart-dominating form, with a string of solo hits under his belt and a constant presence on FM rock radio. Tracks like “Dream Evil,” “Rock And Roll Children” and “The Last In Line” continue in heavy rotation even today on satellite radio. In this disc, Campbell is replaced by guitarist Craig Goldy, whose solos are more fluid and less combustible, but mesh perfectly with the more radio-friendly tracks this later incarnation of Dio lays down. It also includes Sabbath gem “Neon Knights,” and Rainbow’s anthemic “Long Live Rock ’N’ Roll.”

Also out this month is “Neon Nights,” a CD and DVD set by the Black Sabbath incarnation that toured under the name Heaven And Hell. It was recorded in July 2009 at the Wacken Festival in Germany, either as or just before Dio was battling the stomach cancer that would ultimately take his life in May.

His bravura performance is all the more remarkable: a man in his late 60s, possibly battling a fatal disease, rocking out with the soaring vocals and regal stage presence of someone in his 20s. This recording finds Dio shining brightly alongside Sabbath founders Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler, and drummer Vinny Appice, who followed Dio from Sabbath to solo and back again.

“Die Young,” “Heaven And Hell” and “Neon Knights” have never sounded better, and provide a fitting send-off for one of the greatest voices in the history of heavy metal. The DVD also includes tribute interviews from the surviving band members.

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